By John Christoffersen
Friday, February 6, 2009
Warren Kimbro, 74, a former Black Panther whose murder of another party member led to a sensational trial involving the militant group's founder, died Feb. 3 at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. No cause of death was reported.
In May 1969, Mr. Kimbro shot Alex Rackley, whom the Panthers suspected of being a police informant. Mr. Kimbro pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and served more than four years in prison.
He later obtained a Harvard University degree and became a counselor to other former inmates.
"I think he was proof people could turn their lives around," said Paul Bass, a journalist who wrote a book on the trial.
Although Mr. Kimbro admitted being the first to shoot Rackley, Black Panther national leader Bobby Seale and others were also charged with either ordering or taking part in Rackley's kidnap, torture and killing.
The charges sparked a massive protest in New Haven on May Day 1970. Mr. Kimbro testified for the prosecution at Seale's trial in 1970-71. But the case resulted in a hung jury, and the charges were dismissed.
"I think Warren Kimbro was an outstanding brother, a person who in the history of that trial got caught up in a bad situation," Seale told the Associated Press. "He was a socially conscious person. I liked him."
A one-time high school dropout, Mr. Kimbro went on to obtain a master's degree in education from Harvard in 1975. He led Project More, which worked to reduce recidivism by helping former inmates with drug treatment and job training.
"I don't want you to pick up a gun like me," Mr. Kimbro said at a gathering of former party members in 2001. "I want you to pick up your degrees, your positions in the legislature."